Schlagwort-Archive: Abilities

The eternal answer

Just as the water is seeking its path, sometimes almost turning in circles, but always finding its way down into the valley, the same way companies are looking for the organizational line-up that achieves the balance between flat and steep structures. Two findings provide a clear framework. On the one hand the Dunbar number describes the number of people with which someone can keep in touch with – actually 150 or between 100 and 250. If the number of members exceeds that number, the group should be split up in order to ensure functioning. On the other hand, the Miller’s law determines the ability of humans to process simultaneously 7plusminus2 information units (so-called chunks). If more than nine chunks appear at the same time, the risk of overlooking or doing something wrong automatically increases. This determines the framework for the eternal answer of the design of an organization.

Based on the Dunbar number and the Miller’s law there are possibly a maximum of four layers1) and a maximum span of control of nine2). In individual cases it is not the calculability that determines the structure, but the boundaries become clearer. In addition, the span of control is influenced by the following aspects.

  • The abilities of the protagonists
    The executives, who have an appropriate understanding of their tasks, a suitable toolbox and sufficient empathy master larger spans of control. In addition, specialized and ambitioned employees make leadership easier.
  • The complexity of the tasks
    Simple tasks that are clearly described, seldom change, allow routine and require little interaction with others, promote larger spans of control. Increasing interaction with other areas as well as continuously changing influences and requirements limit the span of control.
  • The geographical distribution of the protagonists
    If all participants are sitting in a room, it allows a maximum span of control. The further the members are apart, e.g. distributed globally between Japan and the west coast of the USA, than the span of control will decrease due to tougher reconcilement down to a minimum.
  • The available governance
    A Governance described in sufficient detail allows for wider spans of control. It is not a matter of regulating everything in detail, but of outlining the decisive aspects in such a way that everyone can follow them and develop a common mindset – including principles, alignment ways, basic understanding and clear roles (task, authority and responsibility).
  • The predominant management style
    The self-understanding of the managers includes above all their comprehension of how the interaction between management and employees has to happen. The more authoritarian the management style, the shorter the leash on which the employees are led – which leads to a lower span of control due to the performance limits of the managers. New approaches are based on self-organization, i.e. employees take over management, coordination and control – which enable a larger span of control and flatter structures.

Bottom line: The eternal answer of the span of control is not only theoretically clear – k+kn<=150; where k is the span of control and n the number of at least two hierarchical layers. In daily business, the span of control has settled at five to nine – higher and lower outliers confirm the rule. The number of levels is mitigated by the division into semi-autonomous business units, as soon as a certain number of members (more or less 150) is exceeded, new units are formed. Companies that operate outside this framework should critically review their performance – How fast do we make decisions? How agile are we? What friction losses do we detect? What is the contribution of our structure? The measures derived from this include organizational adjustments, according to the eternal answer

1) Using four levels, a span of control of three is possible ( 3*3*3*3+3=84).
2)  Two levels and a maximum span of control of 9 are possible (9*9+9=90).

The agility of the elders

Thinking about agility, we have in mind the everyday life of hundred-year old people, who live their life with good conditions. Or the Tai Chi master, who still makes his exercises later in life. Or the entrepreneur, who leads his enterprise far beyond the age of retirement. Or the concierge, who reads any desires from your lips for decades and does not feel too important to fulfil some errands by himself. Often older people are described as agile, when they keep certain fitness. Even enterprises want to become more and more agile. Can they learn anything from the agility of the elders?

Agility in business is above all defined by the agile manifesto.  Attentive readers recognize that the manifesto refers to software development. However, outside of the IT-department other basic conditions are valid – less development, more routine, more complex relationships. And nevertheless many new approaches get the new adjective agile – agile project management, agile organization, agile product development, agile HR development.

Young Start-ups are by nature dynamic. They act without the burden of over time developed structures and formalisms. Decisions are made, where the energy is and facts are created. Established organizations want to go back to the early years, when they engaged for the whole without bureaucracy – of course with their long-standing experience. What can these enterprises learn from the elderly?

  • The remaining abilities
    The craft to react in the existing context swift and clever makes the difference – try new things, question existing things, develop energy from within. The tayloristic task arrangement makes it no longer possible to become active outside of your own scope of responsibility. Enterprises want to have committed entrepreneurship and need to become agile for it.
  • The sprightly constitution
    After the purposefully created areas produce new rules, forms and procedures without interruption, without ever to abolishing outdated ones, the enterprises are at risk to become senile. The existing rules are like chunky knight armor with no elbow room. Debureaucratization fails because of the bureaucracy. One cannot negotiate with the frogs about the drainage of their pond. That way enterprises hinder themselves. They have to find open forms of regulations, e.g. value-based governance.
  • The robust structure
    The robustness can be seen in how resistant and steady the involved people are. Difficulties of the business tasks can be mastered safer, if you are well-trained and wiry. In order to do the right things right, the structures have to follow the results and the customers – and being adjusted again and again.
  • The boundless enthusiasm
    Agile teams are euphorically at work and are always on fire for their topic. Passion is the best fuel for the own stimulus. Boundless joy of activity carries also those away, who do not have much momentum at the time. This positive energy cannot be ordered. For this purpose adequate basic conditions have to be created and must leave the involved people room for decisions – for example temporal self-determination and functional participation.

The way to agility crosses the elements that let somebody normally become senile – rheumatoid structures, stubborn approaches, limited perception, and lost mobility. Disturbing are age-related bad habits – missing error tolerance, expected priority for elders and blunt compliance. In the interest of a lasting fitness of the enterprise the decision makers must dissolve the calcification in their areas, since otherwise it can come to lethal apoplexies, due to organizational thromboses.

Bottom line: As soon as a certain age is reached, also enterprises must worry about their fitness. Agility provides potentials. It is important to receive or even re-activate the survival abilities to detoxify out-of-date regulations, to make the structures resilient and to promote a positive mood among all involved people. That way agility becomes the way out of stagnation. That is, what enterprises can learn from the agility of the elders.